Tumacacori National Monument
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Tumacacori National Monument
Frank Pinkley
Superintendent Southwestern National Monuments


The cemetery lies just back of the church and is about 176 feet long and 61 feet wide. It was surrounded on the west, north, and part of the east sides by a wall 2 feet thick and about 8 feet high. Part of the east and the greater part of the south sides were taken up by buildings, the latter being the rear of the church.

The original cemetery wall is in a fair state of preservation except at stretch of about 50 feet on the west side and 30 feet on the east side which had fallen and which we have now rebuilt. The wall was made of unburned adobe bricks, capped with burned bricks and covered inside and out with two coats of lime plaster. The outside of the wall was decorated with fragments of slag and brick in the same manner as the lower wall of the church. The inside was finished with a smooth coat of lime plaster. Large niches occur at regular intervals on the inner side of the wall, probably the 14 Stations of the Cross.

There are a number of graves in the cemetery, but only one of them seems to be of any great age. The local population still considers the ground especially sacred and have made numerous burials there in the last few generations.

The main feature of the cemetery is the mortuary chamber. This building was circular form, measures about 16 feet in diameter inside and had a single doorway opening to the west. The evident intention was to roof it with a dome, but the work was never completed. The first coat of plaster was put on the inside of the wall, but no traces of the second, or the finishing coat, show and it was probably never applied. A single coat of plaster has been applied to the outside and fragments of crushed brick are bedded in it. It is a question wether this was for the purpose of binding the finishing coat to the first coat, or whether it was a decorative scheme, and, making a success of it here, they went further in the church wall, adding the black slag and putting the decoration on in lines.

The cemetery was entered opposite the mortuary chamber by means of a gateway in the west wall. Traces of this gateway were discovered in some excavations and it is now restored.


There are numerous other buildings around the Tumacacori Mission, but the walls being thinner and probably not so well plastered as the church, they have suffered more from erosion and are now, for the greater part, down in mounds.

A two story dormitory building lies just east of the cemetery, the west wall of the building acting for its length as the east wall of the cemetery. There is quite an angle between the axes of the two structures and the explanation probably is that the dormitory was built first, and when the cemetery was laid out behind it, its wall was used for a closing wall regardless of its being slightly out of line. The walls of the dormitory stand nearly the two full stories high, but the roof and floors are gone. There were two large rooms on the ground floor and a rather pretentious flight of steps led up from a large door in the middle of the east wall to the floor above.

Running east from the north end of the dormitory, which dates as a later addition to them, is a row of rooms, now down in a long, low mound. They are presumed to have been living rooms when they were first built, but upon the erection of the dormitory, the rooms may have been used as shops, storage rooms, etc.

Another row of rooms runs east from the tower of the church. These rooms form the south, the church the west, the row of rooms east from the dormitory, the north, and a low mound of earth indicates a wall on the east side of a quadrangle. This quadrangle forms the "Residences of the priests, containing spacious and airy rooms, with every evidence of comfort and refinement," mentioned by Prof. Wrightson, though some doubt may reasonably be felt about the evidences of comfort and refinement which would be visible in rooms raided and destroyed by Apache Indians, and then exposed to 30 odd years of vandalism and erosion before he saw them.

The oblong room on the east side of this quadrangle, mentioned by Mr. Wrightson as the building where metallurgical operations were carried on, has not yet been identified. The mound of debris does not indicate more than a wall on this side of the quadrangle although excavation might possibly develop rooms.

The plaza mentioned as being south of the church is well marked on its west side by a mound of debris formed by the fallen walls of a row of rooms which joined the church at the southwest corner and ran southward. The south and east sides of this plaza are not so well marked, but may have been made up of houses of a more temporary character which have not left much evidence.

West of the church are a number of small heaps of debris, probably the remains of small, one room houses erected by the neophytes forming a clustered village like that which still nestles around the foot of the San Xavier Mission to the north.


A pit, possibly used for the burning of lime or charcoal, has been found about 100 yards north of the church. It was a cylindrical pit some 7 or 8 feet in diameter and about 8 feet deep, lined with adobe bricks which have been burned quite hard. Excavations disclosed charcoal at the bottom of the pit with partially burned limestone above and quite a lot of rejected material lying about the pit.

Another large pit occurs inside the cemetery wall toward the north end of the cemetery. It is possible that this is another lime pit used before the site of the cemetery was chosen and abandoned when it was decided to enclose this ground with the cemetery wall, or it might have been used as a bell pit in casting the mission bells.

A low mound occurs about 200 yards south of the church and was thought, from its size, amount of material, etc., to be the site of the old church. Excavation however proved it to be the kiln where the bricks for the present church were burned. During the past year, further efforts were made to locate the older church, but all efforts so far have been unavailing.

The walls surrounding the orchard, garden and field can still be readily traced; stretches of them still stand and their location is shown at other places by the line of boulders which formed their foundations.

East side of nave after excavation showing bases of altars.


Such was the condition of the Tumacacori when it came into the hands of the United States government as a National Monument in 1908. Since then, the National Park Service has carried on restoration work from year to year as funds became available. To summarize briefly, the grounds have been cleaned and fenced and some trees planted; the roof has been restored to its original state as nearly as might be, and a protective roof placed above it; the interior of the church has been cleaned out and the doors, steps and pulpit steps restored; the cemetery walls have been rebuilt in the ruined places; the pilars located and restored. Many and interesting were the problems involved in this restoration and great was the labor in carrying it out. The work is not yet completed, but much more is planned until the point is reached when restoration becomes re-building.

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Last Updated: 16-Apr-2007